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Motz retirement to create a third opening on 10-member court

Judge J. Frederick Motz will take senior status as soon as his replacement is named.

Maryland’s senators have forwarded three names to President Barack Obama for nomination to the U.S. District Court, following U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz’s notice to the president that he will take senior status as soon as his successor is confirmed.

Judge Ellen Hollander of the Court of Special Appeals and U.S. Magistrate Judges Charles Day and James K. Bredar are on the list that Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin sent Obama on Friday afternoon.

Motz, 66, has been hearing cases in the Edward A. Garmatz Courthouse in Baltimore since 1985, longer than any active or senior judge now sitting on Maryland’s federal court.

His change in status will create the third vacancy on Maryland’s 10-judge federal court; Peter J. Messitte took senior status in September 2008 but continues to hear cases, and André M. Davis was elevated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month.

Senior judges typically handle a reduced caseload — a fifth to a half of active judges’ work — but Motz said he expects to continue working full time, either in Baltimore or around the country in connection with his duties as chairman of Conference Committee on Intercircuit Assignments, which provides relief to overloaded federal courts nationwide.

“I’m not planning to retire, semi-retire or anything of that nature,” Motz said Friday. “Someday I may, but not right now. I just like what I’m doing so much.”

Motz’s wife, Judge Diana G. Motz of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, has not made any similar announcement.

H. Mark Stichel, who has appeared before Motz many times, said the snow-haired jurist’s enthusiasm for his job is evident.

“I think the world of him,” Stichel said. “He’s well-organized, he’s intelligent, he’s insightful — he’s everything you could want in a judge.”

Stichel also praised Motz’s skill as an advocate, recalling a 4th Circuit argument he watched, as a law clerk to Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr., between Motz and former Federal Public Defender Fred W. Bennett.

“That argument was over 25 years ago, and to this day it stands out as the best oral argument that I remember from my year as a law clerk,” he said.

Speaking from his chambers Friday, Motz, whose letter to the president was dated Nov. 12, three days after Davis was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, rattled off the reasons for his decision.

He called it “tradition” to take senior status when one becomes eligible — that is, when the sum of a federal judge’s age and number of years on the bench equals at least 80, but not before age 65. He has been eligible for more than a year.

Motz, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, also said it’s “important that everybody recognize that the district court really isn’t a political institution.”

“One shouldn’t hold on until one’s party gets put in office,” Motz said.

Further, Motz said his taking senior status will bring another judge to Maryland sooner, allowing the existing caseload to be divvied up and handled more efficiently.

Two senior judges in Baltimore continue to hear cases even though their successors, both Bush appointees, have long been confirmed. Judge William M. Nickerson announced his intention to take senior status in 2001; he was succeeded by Judge William D. Quarles Jr. in March 2003. That June, Judge Marvin J. Garbis took senior status and was succeeded by Judge Roger W. Titus in November 2003.

When Motz’s replacement will be confirmed, of course, is anybody’s guess.

“That’s up to the senators and the president and the Senate,” he said.

Intercircuit effort

Motz graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and became a member of the Maryland bar in 1967. He worked at Venable, Baetjer & Howard and as a federal prosecutor before serving as U.S. Attorney for Maryland from 1981 to 1985.

During his lengthy tenure, Motz presided over important political corruption cases, including the successful prosecutions of lobbyist Gerard E. Evans — at whose sentencing in 2000 Motz famously decried a “culture of corruption” in Annapolis — and of former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. and his wife, Mary Pat.

Motz served as chief judge from 1994 to 2001 and was a member of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation from 2001 until June. Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts picked Motz to lead the intercircuit effort last year.

There will be another change in the District Court early next year. That is when the seven-year term of Benson E. Legg as chief judge will end. The chief judgeship will pass to the longest-serving judge under the age of 65, which is expected to be Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. Chasanow would be the first female chief judge of the court, as well as the first based in Greenbelt.

One comment

  1. Judge Motz is an outstanding jurist. I am pleased to see that he will continue full force and that his latest announcement is designed to bring additional resources to the Court.